Chapter Ten

Let my soft arms caress you, let our songs blend together. Let me stand by your side--let me set your heart free!

SOLANGE TO DOMINIC Dominic inched closer to Zacarias, knowing how fast the other Carpathian was. He'd fought beside Zacarias in countless battles and knew his every move. Like shadow dancers, they eyed one another, Zacarias bent over Solange's wrist. Zacarias appeared vulnerable, but Dominic wasn't deceived. Solange was Dominic's lifemate, and she was the most vulnerable of all. Zacarias could kill her in seconds. That alone would shake Dominic enough to give Zacarias a little edge.

The tension heightened. Solange stood very still, her eyes on Dominic's face. She didn't so much as glance at Zacarias as he drew the precious blood from her body. She pulled out of Dominic's mind, but he slipped into hers, hearing her silent screams, seeing the fear amounting to terror. Yet astonishingly, none of it showed on her face, not even in her eyes. Had he not been connected with her, Dominic would never have known how frightened she was.

His woman. His lifemate. Her courage terrifying to him. He wanted to jerk Zacarias away from her. He could see the greed there, the desperate need, the mounting danger. Time stretched out. The sound of Zacarias taking her blood was hideous, the sight intolerable-- yet he forced himself to stand as still as Solange and endure. Sweat beaded on his body, trickled down his chest to mix with the ragged tears in his flesh. For a Carpathian to know his lifemate was not only in danger but was suffering was one of the worst things possible.

Dominic started to stir, but he felt Solange's resistance.

Please give him time to recover. He's trying to pull back.

She would know. Zacarias's mouth was sealed to her vein, drawing heavily on it. She was pale, clammy, but she didn't resist. Dominic realized that was what kept Zacarias in check--her lack of resistance. She had offered her life. She was his family, under his protection, and Zacarias was all about honor. She made him remember. She forced him to choose honor. There would be no escape for Zacarias this night. His life would continue, barren and ugly and without hope.

When I say enough, you do not argue, you run. His voice was implacable.

If you believe it is too late, I'll respect your decision, she agreed.

The tension stretched to a breaking point. Dominic fought with his instincts, trying to give his friend the time he needed to pull back from the precipice himself, but seeing the mouth gulping at his lifemate's blood was worse than just about anything he had ever endured. She was stoic, but she was frightened, and his own discipline was close to the edge.

It seemed a lifetime before Zacarias managed to conquer the beast growing in him. He swept his tongue across Solange's wrist and he bowed low, a gesture of his deepest respect. He had to have known how frightened she was as well. Her blood had been laced with adrenaline, giving him a rush, a fireball burning through his veins, but her courage had defied all logic, her sacrifice great for a warrior so close to turning. He seemed ashamed to be in Dominic's company, and more ashamed to be in hers.

Dominic let out his breath, emotion shaking him, knowing the cost to his friend and to his lifemate. "I apologize, Zacarias. I could not let you go. I know it is difficult, but I cannot yet give you up. Solange knew that. It is my weakness, not yours."

He reached out and gripped Zacarias by his forearms, warrior to warrior, staring into his eyes. They both knew the gesture was brotherhood, respect, and to check that Zacarias had conquered their enemy one more time. The ruby red in Zacarias's eyes had receded along with the haze. His fangs slowly retracted. It took a moment before he responded, clasping Dominic's forearms in a firm grip.

"There is nothing weak about you, Dragonseeker. You hide your fierce nature under that calm charm but those of us who know you are fully aware of the power you wield. I will wait for your call. I go to ground now to keep my people safe."

"Should you need blood," Solange said, "call to us."

Dominic didn't protest, but he was never going to allow such a risk to her again. Fighting vampires was one thing, but walking into the very fangs of a Carpathian on the verge of turning was something altogether different. His heart was still pounding, the sound drumming in his veins. He looked at her, this woman who was such a miracle to him.

Solange seemed so young, yet so intensely vital. Her sable hair was thick and streaked with red and gold, as if the sun had kissed her. The streaks of red represented the fire and passion running so deep in her. And that thick dark hair, gleaming in the moonlight, was her courage, sharp and terrible and so endless, like the rivers cutting through the forest. He needed her, needed to bind them together, hold her close, claim her for his own.

He wanted to drag her into his arms and kiss her forever. He wanted to turn her over his knees and punish her for scaring him. He didn't know what to do with her, but they were going to resolve this one way or the other, because he couldn't go through such an ordeal again. With centuries of facing the undead, the experience of countless battles, facing death every day, nothing had prepared him for the sight of his lifemate offering up her life.

For him. In his name. Her gift to him. A single sound emerged from deep within his throat and he spun on his heel and pointed toward the dwelling, needing to get her away from the other Carpathian. Zacarias would be able to find her, call to her, perhaps make her an unwitting victim. He would always be a threat to her as long as he was unmated. "We must see if we can help the young woman."

Zacarias inclined his head. "Thank you. Try to save her for me, Dominic. I would consider it a great favor. I would go myself, but I no longer trust myself to be near my people. They would sacrifice themselves for me." He bowed again toward Solange. "The infusion of your lifemate's blood has quieted the dark whispers, but I must take myself away from here."

"You will await my call?"

Zacarias nodded. "I will hear when you call or should you need blood. You can trust me to send the information on." He melted into vapor and streamed away.

Heart heavy, Dominic gestured for Solange to precede him into the house. She took a cautious step, as if testing her legs. She appeared a little dizzy, but he didn't touch her, watching Zacarias instead. He wanted her away from the Carpathian hunter as quickly as possible, and he needed to stay alert.

Zacarias was so close to turning and both knew there was little time left for him. The danger was twofold now. Once Zacarias determined he was no longer needed, after this crisis, he would either choose the dawn or he would succumb to the darkness. The loss of such a friend was nearly unthinkable, a stone in Dominic's chest weighing him down, but he wasn't risking Solange any further. They had done what they could for Zacarias. It was up to him now.

Beside Dominic, Solange moved a little closer, as if to console him, but she didn't touch him. When she glanced at him and saw his gaze on her, her eyes shifted from his. She was still uncomfortable around him in any other guise than that of a warrior. He didn't speak, allowing the silence to stretch between them. He was proud of her, yet he was troubled. Upset. His stomach muscles had knotted tight. He had the urge to shake her, or fold her close and hold on so tight she couldn't breathe. He felt as if he were coming down from an adrenaline high that left him edgy and out of sorts--conditions he was unfamiliar with.

Dominic swept Solange behind him, uncaring that she might be upset that he was protecting her, but he was done with her putting her body in harm's way. Zacarias had taken enough blood that she was feeling weak, and because of the parasites, he couldn't even provide for her. She'd stumbled twice and tried to cover it, but he couldn't fail to notice. He knocked politely on the open door leading to the master bedroom. Below, he was certain, Zacarias had a lair, but he wouldn't be using it, wouldn't risk his close proximity to his people, not with his strength waning. He would never knowingly endanger them.

"Zacarias wanted me to see if I could help," Dominic greeted as Cesaro spun around. The man looked disheveled. His face was twisted with grief.

"I don't know what you can do for her," he replied, stepping away from the bed to give Dominic room. "She's alive, but her throat . . ." He trailed off.

Dominic took his place, noting that rather than rushing to the young woman's side, Solange went to the windows, moving like a silent shadow through the room, checking the outside.

"Her father is dead. Out in the courtyard. She has no mother. No other family."

"She has Zacarias and his brothers, and she has you," Dominic said. "Zacarias wants everything possible to be done, and for this home to be considered her home."

Cesaro nodded. "He is like that. Always he looks after us."

"What's her name?" Dominic asked. He needed a moment to breathe his way through the sight of the young woman, so small and helpless, barely making a ripple in the large comforter, torn as she was, her dark, thick braid bloody and her face nearly gray. The reminder of the destruction a vampire could cause in seconds only added to his resolve to curb Solange's courage just a little--enough that he could live with.

"Marguarita," Cesaro answered. He wiped his hand over his face. "I don't know what I'm going to tell the others."

Dominic leaned over the young woman. Her breath was barely moving through her lungs. Have him leave the room, Solange.

Solange didn't hesitate. "We need you to patrol the grounds with your men. If you need to remove her father's body from the courtyard, do so, but there could be another attack. They were after Zacarias. He's a huge threat to them."

She said the right thing. Cesaro hurried to guard his boss's estate and left the dying woman to them. Dominic trusted Solange to watch over his vulnerable body while he went outside himself and sent his energy into Marguarita.

At once he could see that Zacarias had worked a miracle in the short time he had. The Carpathian had awoken ravenous, but he'd still given his blood and what energy he had to try to save one of those loyal to him. Had he known she'd been attacked because she refused to give up his resting place? Her mind had been protected and the vampire had been unable to break through the safeguards Zacarias had woven for each of those working for him.

The Carpathian blood rushed to every cell, trying to repair the terrible damage. Her vocal cords were nearly destroyed. Dominic took up the repairs where Zacarias had left off, striving to make certain she could both breathe and swallow properly. The torn muscles were reattached. Thankfully Zacarias had given her the blood she needed. Dominic couldn't supply her, and there was no way of knowing if Solange's blood was compatible. He did the best he could, realizing that he hadn't fed when he came back to his body weak and swaying.

"You've been working a long time," Solange said, holding out her wrist. "You need . . ." "Do not!" He held up his hand. "I think I have had enough of your sacrifices to last a lifetime. I will hunt while you watch over her."

Solange winced, but she dropped her wrist to her side without protest. Her face flushed and she averted her face.

His words were sharper than he intended, the need for blood--hers--riding him hard. He wanted more than her blood. The beast was still too close, needing to carry her off, keep her safe. He had every intention of laying down the law in a way his lifemate could understand, but right now, when his entire body was still in shock from the terror of those teeth in her veins and the ruby-red eyes of the near-vampire marking her as prey right under his nose, he couldn't find it in him to be gentle with her.

"Is she going to live?"

Was there a tremor in her voice? He caught her chin and lifted her head until her eyes met his. She was trembling like a little bird. The pad of his thumb strummed across her soft lips.

"She will live. Her people will take care of her. I am the only one taking care of you, and I am not doing a very good job of it."

She frowned, her lashes fluttering. She looked confused, the color rushing into her face. "Why would you need to take care of me? I did make the one mistake, but I realized it immediately. There is no need to worry about me. I'm sorry I knocked the vampire off you. I should have known you had a plan." Her words tumbled out, a breathless explanation, almost painfully delivered. She could barely force herself to look at him.

"You are a warrior of great skill and I have no quarrel with the way you helped this rising. You kept Cesaro from being killed and Zacarias from dishonoring himself while I was slaying the vampire." He gave credit where it was due. "I was proud of you."

She swallowed hard, her eyes a deep green, almost emerald. The long lashes fluttered and she looked away. She wasn't used to compliments--or attention. Dominic turned away from the sheer vulnerability on her transparent face. She gave that only to him. It was a privilege, a treasure, and yet, a great responsibility.

"You're upset with me." She made it a statement.

"Not with you, kessake. I am upset with myself. Stay alert. The undead are traveling in packs. I have not had the time yet to remove all evidence of his presence."

She opened her mouth and then as abruptly closed it, nodding once before turning her attention to Marguarita. Dominic didn't touch Solange as he wanted. He strode from the room and went into the smaller bedroom where Etienne first had questioned Marguarita. This was her room. She kept the house for the absent owner while her father and Cesaro ran the large cattle ranch. She'd probably never met Zacarias, but loyalty was so ingrained in the families--from birth, the secret of the Carpathians entrusted to their lineage--and all of them would rather die than betray their honor.

He sighed as he meticulously repaired the damage to the structure and removed all evidence of the attack. Etienne's master would know he was dead and he would want to know where it had happened and how. If he came looking, he would find no evidence of Zacarias or Etienne in this place. He would remind Cesaro to exercise caution with the body of Marguarita's father. It would be best to incinerate it. The undead riddled with parasites often left them behind in the ragged wounds and they would call to their masters. Marguarita had none in her bloodstream, but Dominic had interrupted the attack so that the vampire hadn't had the time to inject his passengers into her.

He glanced around the room. A woman's room. Did Solange have a woman's room hidden away somewhere? He doubted it. She would be ashamed to acknowledge that side of herself. She considered the warrior strong and the woman weak. She would hide the softer side from everyone who knew her. His body reacted to that thought. She wouldn't hide it from him. He would peel back the layers until the woman was exposed and given exclusively to him. His. Like Solange, he'd never had anyone of his own. He'd never belonged to anyone. The idea that she was his and his alone and would never want to be anyone else's was an intriguing thought.

As he worked fast in the room, he noted everything: the brushes, the mirrors and the perfume bottles. Everything in the room suggested Marguarita was ultrafeminine, and yet she'd had a backbone of steel, refusing to give up her employer in the face of certain death. The hideous, vile creature tormenting her hadn't broken her. Women could be many things. They came in all shapes and sizes with vastly different personalities, but no matter what was on the surface, it was what lay beneath that counted to him--as it did for all Carpathians. They could see into the mind, and what lay there, along with the heart and soul of the women, was what made them beautiful, not that outside package.

He knew Solange well enough now that if he should tell her the outside package didn't matter at all to a Carpathian, she would take it wrong. She would feel that was his way of politely saying he saw her body as she did--unattractive--and that was far from the truth. He retraced Etienne's steps, destroying all evidence of his passing. He found himself in the courtyard. The body had been removed, but the blood remained, staining the flower beds, the slabs of stepping stones and the dark, rich soil. Several plants had withered, the effects of nature coming into contact with the abomination of the undead. Vampires would easily spot that telltale sign from the sky.

Again, he was meticulous in removing all traces of the undead's presence and the fight that had taken place here. If it was known that Zacarias had been here, this ranch and everyone in it would be targeted. Things had to appear mundane--as if no one had any idea of the presence of vampires. He was ravenous by the time he had finished. He knew the moment Cesaro approached, coming slowly, almost reluctantly, up behind him.

Dominic turned. "You have questions?"

Cesaro shook his head. " Don Zacarias sent word to me that you may need blood. He asked, as a favor to him, that I supply your needs. I gave him my word. He asked me to follow any instructions you might give."

"Did he assure you that I would not harm you?" There was no making it easy with Zacarias's safeguards on the man. He would know Dominic was taking his blood, and yet, courageously, he had followed orders. No, not orders; a request.

"This has been a traumatic evening for all of you," Dominic said with a small sigh. "I do not wish to make it worse. Unfortunately the body of the young lady's father must be incinerated. The undead leave behind small parasites that will call to their masters and draw them to this place. I am removing all evidence of the battle, but you cannot allow anyone to speak of this night, or even mention Marguarita's injuries. It is for the safety of everyone here."

Cesaro inclined his head. "We have been well trained in what to do. We are preparing the body now."

"I know you would prefer to burn it yourselves out of respect, but my way will be faster, cleaner and will ensure no parasites escape. It will also not provide a beacon for the undead."

"This is a bad night." Cesaro sighed. "Tell me honestly if Marguarita will live."

"She will live. I do not know if she will speak again. We did our best, but her throat was very torn. She will have this place and all Carpathians will honor her for her sacrifice."

Cesaro rubbed his temple, as if trying to ease a nagging headache. "Our people have always been De La Cruz. We fight for them, guard them and are honored to die in their service. Marguarita is no different. We will take care of her." He took a breath, let it out. "It would be an honor to carry out Jefe's wishes."

"You are certain," Dominic asked, liking the man more and more.

"I believe so."

Dominic didn't waste time. Every cell in his body was crying out for sustenance. He'd been using so much energy to heal Marguarita and to remove all signs of the battle that he'd grown pale. He moved toward the man rather than force Cesaro to walk to him.

"My people exist on blood, just as you exist on the meat of animals. We do not kill. Only the vampire does that."

Cesaro's swallow was audible. He nodded his head. " Don Zacarias has explained this to us. It is . . . difficult, but I wish to do this for you."

"If you allow me to, I will help you not to feel anything. You will retain the memory without fear."

Cesaro frowned, but shook his head. "I want to know what it feels like to serve those who have been so good to our families these long years."

Dominic preferred to take the blood from the neck, as did all Carpathians, but he didn't want this man's heart to explode. He could hear the trepidation in his brave request, and the strong heart accelerating. It was all he could do to respect the man's wishes and not calm him.

He swept his tongue over the offered wrist to numb the skin and then sank his fangs deep into the vein, almost in one continuous movement. Cesaro made a single sound, but he didn't flinch or try to pull his arm away. Dominic understood why the De La Cruz family believed in these humans. They were loyal to a fault and just as courageous. Hot blood flowed into his body, soaking into cells, muscles and tissue, instantly providing strength, replenishing his energy.

He was careful not to take too much, but when he swept his tongue over the twin holes, closing them, Cesaro swayed and Dominic helped him to sit.

"It didn't hurt like I thought it would," Cesaro murmured. He gave Dominic a small smile. "One builds it up in his head until he is afraid, but there was little pain."

"It can be dangerous," Dominic reminded. "When we have lived too long and killed too many times, there is no longer feeling."

" Don Zacarias told me that. He said you and your woman saved me. And saved him."

Dominic shook his head. "Perhaps we made his choice easier. I will clean up the battlefield while you drink plenty of fluids. Then you must take me to the body and send everyone else away." Solange brushed back the stray trendrils of hair from Marguarita's face. She looked like a beautiful broken doll lying there so still and pale. There were dark circles under her eyes, and two thick crescents of dark lashes fanned her cheeks. She had been a beautiful, vital woman just hours before. Solange sighed softly. There was so much violence in the world, especially, it seemed to her, against women. What had this woman done to anyone? She'd been living her life, happy. Now, her father lay dead and her throat was crushed. It all seemed so senseless to Solange. She'd spent nearly every day of her life working to prevent just such atrocities, and yet she seemed to fail at every turn.

"I'm sorry I wasn't here," she murmured softly. Sometimes it felt as though she was always late, always just a little short, and the last couple of days had been bad ones.

She removed Marguarita's shoes and socks and drew a blanket over her. It would be up to the people on the ranch to see to her care now. "How are they going to explain all this?"

"They have doctors in the family," Dominic said from behind her.

She whirled around, a growl emerging. No one snuck up on her. She was cat. She scented the presence of others, yet there he stood, taking up the room with his wide shoulders and powerful frame.

"How did you get in here?"

"I used another form. It seemed easier than trying to remain unseen by the workers. Are you ready to go?"

He spoke in that same gentle voice, but she knew there was an edge to him. There had been ever since she'd given her blood to Zacarias. She tried to figure out what she'd done wrong. It had been a long while since she'd spent so much time in anyone's company, and especially the company of a man. How could she be what he wanted when she could barely force herself to speak to him? Was a relationship supposed to be so difficult, or was she making it that way? She had no idea how to act. What to feel or think. Or say. Especially say.

Solange wanted to tell him she knew she could be all he could ever need, but she didn't believe it. She didn't want another woman touching him, sharing his time, his life, even his laughter or conversation. She knew she had somehow taken an irreversible step when she'd told him the truth about her blood. She'd opened the door for the possibility of a future. She was terrified of the consequences. She didn't give her heart into a man's keeping, it just wasn't done. Yet she couldn't stop herself from wanting him.

He took away the utter loneliness she'd endured for most of her life. She told herself it wasn't real, that he'd been her dream and she'd given the real man her dream man's characteristics, but she knew better. Dominic was--Dominic. He was also Dragonseeker, and that gave her more pause than him being male. She'd heard the name Dragonseeker. The title had been whispered, a legend. A terrifying myth. Even the De La Cruz brothers inadvertently lowered their voices when speaking of the Dragonseeker. She hadn't thought him real, more a story told in Carpathian society, a great warrior, a fierce fighter, so strong no one in his lineage had ever turned vampire. She had seen the respect Zacarias gave him, and Zacarias respected few. She knew Zacarias had a fierce reputation as well, yet he had definitely stepped back from Dominic.

It was difficult to equate the man who treated her so gently with the whispered legend. She took a quick look up at his face. She could see the stamp of ruthlessness there in those lines etched so deep. He had given her the best moments of her life in the short time they'd been together, but at what price? He was not someone she could ever push around, and she had a fiery temperament. What would happen when she opened her mouth and the wrong thing came out?

"Solange?" he prompted. "Are you ready?" He held out his hand to her.

Her heart jumped into her throat. She could never take his hand publicly. What if someone saw her? She would look girly . . . weak. Her pulse went wild. Frantic. He simply looked at her, his ever-changing eyes on her face, compelling her to step forward and put her hand in his. Women did it all the time, held hands with their man. She rubbed her palms along her thighs in agitation.

He didn't drop his hand, only continued to look at her. She scented the air and licked her suddenly dry lips, her gaze flicking toward the door, checking for anyone close.

"Look at me," Dominic instructed. "Only at me. It does not matter what anyone else thinks or feels. Only me."

"It's just that . . ." She trailed off under his burning gaze.

Why couldn't she just do such a simple thing? What was wrong with her? She found herself shaking her head, stepping back away from him, knowing she was blowing the only chance she had at happiness, but unable to reach for his hand.

He didn't waver. Didn't drop his arm. He crooked his finger at her. "I am aware of the location of every person on this ranch, and aware of your fears. Do you not trust me to look out for you?"

She wanted to sob at the look in those piercing blue eyes. Of course he knew where everyone was. He shouldn't have had to remind her. She knew he wouldn't take the step to her. She was going to have to do it. She glanced at the woman so silent and pale on the bed. Marguarita could have done it and she wouldn't have thought twice about it.

Was pride getting in the way? Her pride was already in tatters. She closed her eyes, took a breath and stepped forward, placing her hand in Dominic's. At once his fingers closed around hers, making her feel small and far too vulnerable. He drew her to him, close so that her body was nearly touching his. So she could feel the heat radiating from him.

"That's my little cat."

The approval in his voice warmed her and that frightened her. She'd never needed or sought anyone's approval. Why was it so important to her? She was upset with herself that she'd never asked Juliette or MaryAnn about how they felt when their men were upset or happy with them. Was she normal? Who was she kidding? There was nothing normal about her.

He brought her hand to his mouth. She could feel the warmth of his breath, see warmth in his eyes, although she could barely look at him. She was so going to blow this. Her stomach flipped and her womb spasmed when he nibbled on the ends of her fingers.

"Are you ready?" he asked again.

Ready to be alone with him again? Was she ready for that? She doubted it, but what was she going to do? It was better to just not say anything. She nodded her head.

He let go of her and a part of her was grateful while another idiotic part wished he was still holding her close. He bent over Marguarita and she tasted bitterness in her mouth. Her cat slammed hard against her skin and, glancing in the mirror, she saw her eyes had gone completely jaguar. She turned away from that display of female jealousy. She was sad for poor Marguarita, her life changed for all time, yet she was anxious that Dominic might compare them. Marguarita was a beautiful woman, slender, with curves and flawless skin, while she was . . . all sinewy muscle and padding.

Dominic turned, and this time he was frowning. "I do not like your unflattering comparison of my woman to another."

Her heart did that now familiar jump. She sighed. Maybe you shouldn't be reading my thoughts without my knowledge. She couldn't help the thought from popping into her head and she winced, hoping he didn't hear that. She squashed every snippy thing she wanted to say and bit down hard on her lip. She couldn't imagine what he would do when she gave him attitude--which was inevitable. Even her younger cousin Jasmine, who loved her very much, said she had a major attitude problem.

"You seem to be having problems censoring what you are thinking." There was amusement in his voice. He didn't wait for her reply, but led the way out into the yard.

Cesaro sat in a chair on the front verandah. He looked tired and worn, but he managed a small smile. "I will send my wife in to Marguarita. She'll stay with her until the doctor gets here. The doctor is my brother, so have no fear, there will be no one speaking of this terrible night. And thank you for killing that monster." Dominic gave a small, formal bow and continued striding away from the ranch into the trees. Solange lifted her hand, and without speaking, followed Dominic until the forest swallowed them completely. They walked in silence for a few minutes, Solange staying a few steps behind and to his left, giving him plenty of room to maneuver should they run into an enemy.

"How far are we walking?" she asked.

He stopped and turned, his gaze thoughtful as it drifted over her. "It is a distance to our lair," he acknowledged. And waited.

Her breath hissed out between her teeth. Instinctively she knew what he wanted from her, and that stubborn part of her just didn't want to go there. She was not going to ask to be carried. What was she? A child? She could walk. She could walk all night if she had to. Maybe she'd just shift into her cat and make it easier . . .

"No." His eyes stayed locked with hers, refusing to allow her to look away.

She bit her lip hard. "What do you want?"

"I think you should answer that question."

"You don't understand. Really. You don't." Frustrated, Solange shoved her fingers through her hair, making more of a mess out of the thick mass than it had already been. "You think you know me, but you don't. If I open my mouth I'm going to ruin all this."

A slow, sexy smile softened the hard edge to his mouth and set the butterflies free in her stomach. "I doubt that very much, Solange. You are my lifemate. It does not work that way at all. You cannot ruin it, nor can I. We will find our way with each other. You just have not chosen to commit to our relationship yet."

She shook her head. "I have. I told you about my blood, that it could get rid of the parasites. I didn't go after Brodrick while you were gone. That's commitment."

"Then why do you find it so difficult to ask such a simple thing from me as to transport us back to our lair?"

When he put it like that, it did sound silly. But she wasn't in the habit of asking favors. She was more honest with herself than that. Okay. It wasn't about favors. She didn't want to show weakness. Or ask him for anything. She hated that he was right. It was about trust, but how did one become different? She wanted to be different. She just couldn't get past that terrible wall she'd built around herself in order to survive.

"I don't know how to do this, Dominic." There was despair in her voice. "I can't talk to you." She was beginning to have the urge to run--and she'd never run from anything in her life. "You had no trouble talking to me in our dreams."

He was relentless. And calm. She had the urge to smack him. This wasn't about a dream. "You weren't real then. I could tell you anything and there weren't . . ." She trailed off trying to find the right word. "Repercussions. You have to know it's different. Doesn't it feel different to you?" She couldn't get the pleading tone out of her voice. She wanted him to understand.

"Completely different," he agreed. "Better. I feel emotions I have not felt in hundreds of years. I know what love is. I know what it is to be jealous and to be happy. I can look at my woman and feel the demands of my body. I welcome even the possibility of heartache. I know what it is to not feel, Solange, and I will take emotion and the risks that come with that ability."

She lifted her chin. She knew her eyes had gone cat, but she couldn't help the stir of anger at the implied reprimand. "I've felt too much all my life, Dominic. Sorrow. Heartache. Rage. Whether you want to admit it or not, it's a risk."

He held his arms out to his sides, his gaze steady. "Then you have to decide for yourself whether I am worth the risk."

Her breath came out in a long hiss. "You're backing me into a corner. I'm a fighter. I don't like being cornered."

Those brilliant eyes never left her face. He shook his head. "You are trying to find a reason to run because you're afraid, Solange. Why would you be afraid of me?"

"Because," she said, feeling desperate. "I don't know what to do." The moment the words were out, she wanted to take them back. She sounded so silly. She was a grown woman and she should be able to handle a simple conversation with a man, but that was the trouble. She'd never been a woman. She didn't know how to be. She knew she could not be the woman he wanted and sooner or later he'd walk away from her.

She would be shattered. Completely and utterly broken. It was too much of a risk. She could be a coward in this one instance, because it was self-preservation. She waited for his disgust, for him to simply disappear as Carpathians could.

Dominic stepped forward and framed her face, forcing her gaze to meet his. "All you have to do, kessake, is ask me to take us back to our lair--our home. Is that really so difficult?"

He used that voice, the one that crept inside and wrapped around her heart, squeezing until she wanted to cry. She wanted him so much. She wanted to belong to him. How could she ever believe she was worthy of him? That he would really choose her over all the women he could have? How could he love a woman like her? He didn't prompt her again and she knew he wouldn't. He would just stand there until she acquiesced. She knew he could hear her heart pounding. She tasted fear in her mouth. Why wasn't this easy? She took a breath. Let it out.

"Will you take us home, Dominic?" With that one sentence, she risked everything she was or would ever be.

The approval in his eyes sent heat rushing through her body. She was so lost in him already. It didn't matter what happened in the future. It was already too late for her, she could tell by her reaction to that look on his face. She wanted to please him when she'd never cared about pleasing anyone. And that told her it was far too late for her.


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